LSO/Harding Lang Lang – Bartók & Bruckner

Piano Concerto No.2
Symphony No.5 in B flat [edited Nowak]

Lang Lang (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Harding

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 20 April, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Lang Lang. Photograph: Felix BroedeLang Lang was an eager advocate of Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto, if tending to rush and thus sacrificing good ensemble with the orchestra (the end of the first movement threatened to come apart). You can’t doubt the pianist’s enthusiasm, and his joy when playing, but he was often too loud and pounding (tone sacrificed for huge gestures), staccatos sniped at. There is more finesse, shading and inflection available in the solo part, and although Lang Lang did reach pianissimo and accommodate the orchestra, loving every minute that he plays doesn’t necessarily illuminate music as complex and distinctive as this. In the first movement the LSO winds were in good shape even if there was little evidence of a true collaboration with the pianist – heads down for conductor and players doing their thing, Lang Lang putting on a show of his own – and while the strings opened-up a new dimension in the slow movement, a lack of variegation across its course (central spectral activity aside) dragged it down. The finale was surprising in its deliberation – if making the music too Hungarian – but another assault from the pianist and a hard-hitting LSO didn’t leave much to the imagination.

Daniel HardingThe Bruckner was a curiosity, Daniel Harding playing-up contrasts, the music unsettled (in the wrong way). The opening was atmospheric, but the brass announced its intentions from the off – loud and strident, trumpets especially; such stinging playing doesn’t sustain 75 minutes (if this was a ‘cathedral of sound’ some of the stained-glass windows got smashed!). Harding solemnised and sped the music (with little coalescing), some of it worked, some of it didn’t; the result was a symphony that didn’t add up, nothing saved for the ultimate coda. It was though an interesting performance, at its best in the middle movements, the slow one dancing more than it usually does – almost a scherzo before its time – and if the real thing (launched attacca in a successful coup) was rather manipulated (more a Mahlerian Ländler than a Brucknerian one), the trio gleeful (detail beguiling, as elsewhere), it still held the attention despite searing trumpets (turn it down guys!) and bludgeoning, mechanical timpani-playing. The finale, as the first movement had been, moved in fits and starts, with some too-contrived dynamic contrasts, pauses elongated, a moment-by-moment exposition rather than building a towering edifice.

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